With its sights set on the defense, humanitarian, and commercial markets, Elroy Air has just inked a deal with Mesa Airlines that includes up to 150 pre-orders for the Chaparral hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft to be used in commercial express parcel and healthcare delivery.
The San Francisco-based eVTOL developer announced the agreement this morning with Mesa Airlines, an American regional airline that operates fleets for American Airlines, United Airlines, and DHL. This brings Elroy Air’s total conditional pre-orders for its hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft to more than 500 vehicles worth about $1 billion that will be used for defense, humanitarian, and commercial operations.
Jonathan Ornstein, chair and CEO of Mesa Airlines, said the partnership with Elroy Air helps the airline respond to the growing demand for same and next-day delivery, especially as many “rural communities have been cut off from the national transportation system.”
He said the pilot shortages and environmental regulations make the situation even more challenging, but “with the Chaparral, we’re excited to be able to provide autonomous cargo delivery to help reconnect those communities.”
Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s vice president of business development and strategy, told eVTOL.com that the company will be integrating its aircraft into the Mesa network over the next few years. The Arizona-based airline will act as Elroy Air’s first partner in the commercial air cargo market, where the companies hope to begin customer commercial operations as soon as 2023.
In addition to commercial cargo delivery, Elroy Air is also targeting the defense and humanitarian markets — the sectors with limited regulatory hurdles, Asante said.
“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with strong operators who have been servicing these three core customer markets for decades,” Asante said. “The partnerships will focus on missions that aim to improve quality of life for communities by expanding express logistics.”
The cargo drone maker previously secured a Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S. Air Force, which includes funding through its Agility Prime program to help operationalize the hybrid-electric VTOL cargo aircraft.
Elroy Air received another boost in late 2021 when it was awarded a $1.7-million Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) contract by the Air Force. The company said the additional funds will be used to further develop its deployment details and concept of operations (ConOps) with its Air Force and Agility Prime partners.
In November, Elroy Air entered the humanitarian sector when it announced a partnership with AYR Logistics, an aircraft owner and operator that provides logistics support to the humanitarian community in more than 45 countries. The partnership includes a commitment from AYR Logistics to purchase up to 100 Chaparral aircraft, with Elroy expecting to start humanitarian missions as early as 2023.
“That’s just the agreements that we have in place now,” David Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air, told eVTOL.com. “The need and demand for this system in the world that we see over the next five or 10 years is much larger than that.”
Elroy Air reached its first flight test milestone with an earlier demonstrator model in 2019. After securing $40 million from its Series A financing round, the startup used the new capital to develop the next iteration of the Chaparral, which will be on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California, starting this Friday until Sunday.
The new Chaparral prototype is a lift-plus-cruise hybrid-electric VTOL that is targeting a range of 300 miles (480 kilometers), and a payload of 300 to 500 pounds (135 to 225 kilograms). It includes eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric propulsors for forward flight, a high-wing airframe configuration, as well as improvements to its ground autonomy and cargo-handling systems from the previous prototype.
The Chaparral is designed with a full carbon composite airframe, and a turbine-based hybrid-electric powertrain for long-range flights. The company claims the aircraft can fit in a 40-foot (12-meter) shipping container or a C-130 cargo aircraft, making it deployable from anywhere in the world.
Clint Cope, co-founder and president of Elroy Air, calls the Chaparral design a “hybrid between a rough-and-ready helicopter and a battle-hardened bush plane.”
That’s because the Chaparral hybrid eVTOL aircraft is designed to pick up and drop off a separate aerodynamic cargo pod anywhere with a 50-square-foot (five square-meter) landing area. It’s autonomous technology means it can travel to remote locations, transporting cargo without human intervention.
“The Chaparral will be a vital logistics link for people around the world with unreliable roadways and in remote and rural areas that take longer to reach today,” Cope said.
Elroy Air plans to begin flight testing its newest prototype with the U.S. Air Force this year.